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Noodle Staff
Noodle Expert Member

December 18, 2019

A 3-minute guide to preschool and child care in Delaware. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: Delaware has notably helpful resources to assist families in searching for and selecting great early childhood education programs. The state oversees three types of licensed care, which is the most popular choice for parents, and allows some forms of unlicensed care with an Exemption Letter. Delaware has been working to improve its preschool options through the $50 million Early Learning Challenge grant provided by the federal government.


Delaware offers three main types of licensed care, which vary primarily by size: Center-based programs, family care programs, and large family care programs. Certain types of childhood care are allowed to run unlicensed programs, but they must get an Exemption Letter from the Office of Child Care Licensure (OCCL).

In 2011, Delaware was awarded a large grant through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant. Much of that $50 million grant has been used toward supporting the state’s Delaware Stars Early Success, a Quality Rating and Improvement System. This initiative aims to increase access to high-quality programs for low-income families by providing professional development and support services to existing programs. The state’s goal is to have 58 percent of high-needs children enrolled in top-tier programs by the end of 2015 (in 2011, only 5 percent of children with high needs were enrolled in such programs). The state has already made much progress and was lauded in the book Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families for its commitment to early childhood education.

Another support that Delaware provides to parents is the Purchase of Care program, which helps low-income families pay for child care, which costs an average of $840 a month in the state.

Delaware offers parents great resources to facilitate their search for a quality early childhood program. <a href="{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } offers a guide that helps parents ask important questions as they select a provider, and the Office of Child Care Licensure also provides a section of Child Care Aware. The OCCL has a great [search tool](" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Frequently Asked Questions that filters by provider type, quality, county, and school district. In addition, parents are encouraged to call OCCL if they want the complete licensing file of a given institution.

Center-Based Care

Center-based care in Delaware is defined broadly as any program that provides care to 13 or more children, and includes many different types of organizations, ranging from day cares and nursery schools to summer child care and holiday care. All center-based care in Delaware must be licensed by the Office of Child Care Licensing. The regulations for receiving a license depend on the type of center. These encompass staff qualifications, physical environment, safety, and curricular goals. Each center-based care provider receives an announced inspection once a year, as well as an unannounced visit if a complaint is made.

All centers must observe a suitable caregiver-to-child ratio, which depends on the age(s) of the children being served. These are 1:4 for infants, 1:6 for young toddlers (12 to 23 months), 1:8 for older toddlers (24 to 35 months), 1:10 for young preschool children (36 to 47 months), and 1:12 for older preschool children (48 months and older, but not yet attending kindergarten).

Home-Based Care

In Delaware, home-based care comes in two different forms]: family care programs and large family care programs. Regular family care programs are available for up to nine children and are specifically intended for parents who want a home-like learning environment for their children. Due to the small size of the groups, there is only a single caregiver. Large family care differs only in size: Large family care centers are available for up to 14 children, with the exact number varying depending on ages of the children served. Both of these types of home-based care can only operate if they receive a license from the Office of Child Care Licensing. Licenses are issued to indicate verification of the qualifications of the care providers, the safety of the physical environment, the availability of health resources (such as a first-aid kits), and the programming available to children. All home-based care facilities receive an announced inspection once a year, as well as unannounced visits whenever complaints are made.

Unlicensed Care

Certain types of early childhood care are allowed to operate legally without a license, although providers must apply for an Exemption Letter from the Office of Child Care Licensing. Exemptions cover state-run programs; camps with permits from public health; religion classes that happen over the summer; programs where parents do not leave; programs with no curriculum or agreement of care; programs that target a particular special need, skill (such as art), or emergency; and programs run by schools registered with the Department of Education that provide instruction up to sixth grade.

_Discover Delaware preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind._